A. The Tigers had the SEC's best defense, allowing just 9.6 points per game.
B. The Tigers had the SEC's best ground game. Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown are the finest 1-2 running punch in fooball -- college OR pro.
C. The Tigers had the SEC's best quarterback. Unheralded senior Jason Campbell worked within the system and made enough plays to win every game.
For the reasons stated above, the 2004 Tigers remind me a lot of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team. The '98 Vols also had a brilliant defense, led by Al Wilson. They had a super ground game featuring great depth at running back -- Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry and Travis Stephens. They had an unsung quarterback (Tee Martin) who played within his system and made enough plays to win every game.
Like most fans, I love offense. I love the tension of seeing a long pass sail downfield while the intended receiver and the defensive back jockey for position. I love seeing the receiver made a spectacular catch or the defender make an acrobatic interception. It's the most exciting part of football, in my book.
Still, I recognize that you win titles with defense. That's how Tennessee did it in 1998, and that's how Auburn did it in 2004. By holding foes to 9.6 points per game, Auburn took the pressure off Campbell. Knowing he needed to produce just 14 points or so to win enabled him to be patient and not force plays that weren't there. He didn't get flustered after a three-and-out because he knew he'd have the ball in his hands again very soon.
That's the same setup that worked for Tee Martin in 1998. Supported by a great defense and a superior ground game, Tee spent most of his time handing off to Tennessee's talented tailbacks. On those rare occasions when opponents forced him to make plays, Tee rose to the occasion and made them. That's precisely the same script Auburn followed in 2004. Campbell got great support from his ground game and his defense but he made plays when he had to.
My hat's off to Auburn. The Tigers beat everybody in their path, including two impressive defeats of SEC East champ Tennessee. This is a great team, and I'm sure it will represent the Southeastern Conference well in the Sugar Bowl.